November 9, 2018

A wee bit of political news you need to be aware of from outside Texas

I’m not going to go deep into Texas election news, since we’ve covered it in the Legislative Hotline the past two days (Wednesday and Thursday).

Here are a couple items you might have missed from outside of Texas that have implications here. In the piece, “Echoing at the state Capitol’: Arizona Prop. 305 to expand school vouchers defeated,” we learn that a grassroots effort by a parent’s organization overturned the state’s expansion of vouchers:

A grassroots group of parents successfully overturned the massive school voucher expansion supported by the state’s Republican establishment, as the “no” vote on Proposition 305 won by a wide margin, the Associated Press has projected.
The “no” vote victory on Prop. 305 has major implications for the school-choice movement in Arizona and nationally, as the state has long been ground zero for the conservative issue and Republican leaders have crowned the Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion as a national template.

Texas AFT has successfully led the fight here in Texas to stop voucher bills, which have failed in the Legislature for some 20 years. You can find more details on what happened in the overwhelming victory of the parent group — 65 percent to 35 percent —in the story. But here is one catalyst for how movement to overturn the expansion evolved:

Prop. 305 was launched after investigations into the program by The Arizona Republic showed students were using the ESA program to leave wealthier and better performing schools and that the program was plagued by lax oversight and misspending.

Education Week sums up the recent spate of teacher candidates and the results of their campaigns today in “Dozens of Teachers Were Elected to State Office. Many More Fell Short.”

While we declared public education a “winner” in Texas after Tuesday’s election, the same label didn’t go to the majority of educator candidates.

It was the culmination of months, if not years, of activism and advocacy for many of these educators, and yet the victory wasn’t clear-cut. While 42 teachers won, nearly 80 teachers — or two-thirds of those on the ballot — lost their legislative bids in Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to an Education Week analysis…..“It could have cohered into a clear story — a wave story — but in fact, it’s more of a patchwork,” said Jeffrey Henig, the director of the program in politics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “This will be disappointing to some folks who were very excited and envisioned a teacher wave.”

(Here in Texas, one of our former teacher members, James Talarico, was victorious in his bid for State rep for House District 52 in Williamson County.) Remember that even though Education Week has a bigger tally as losses for educators, the vast majority of these teachers were first-time candidates, and there was an incredible increase in the number that ran. Experience has shown us that the first step to change legislative dynamics is to recruit a large number of new candidates ready to champion public education. A parallel might be the success of women candidates this election cycle. The Texas Tribune, for example, ran this article yesterday: “2018 was the year of the woman in Texas. Candidates say it’s “not a one-time deal.”

Forty percent of women who ran for congressional, judicial, State Board of Education and other statewide offices during the midterms in Texas won their race, according to a Texas Tribune data analysis. Texas women were poised for potential gains after multiple upsets in March during primary season. In race after race on Tuesday, Texas women won up and down the ballot including Congress, the Texas House and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

However, women in previous elections had been stepping up more and more as candidates, gaining experience and paving the way for this wave. It’s time Texas educators take the cue from their peers in other states and start considering a run for the Texas Legislature.

Texas stuck with $33 million loss of federal special education funding

(Photo: Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

We covered this issue before looking at a court battle over the U.S. Department of Education trying to penalize Texas with a $33 million loss of special education funding after the state broke federal rules and reduced its special education spending.

Now the verdict is in from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found that the state indeed is liable for the penalty. As the Houston Chronicle reports:

States are prohibited by federal law from reducing funding for special education services. If states decide to reduce funding, the Department of Education reduces the amount of federal aid by the same amount. In 2012, Texas reduced its special education budget by $33 million, so the federal government withheld $33 million as a penalty.
The law is designed to prevent states from shifting more of the financial burden of special education to the federal government. Still, Texas fought the Department of Education’s decision to withhold the funding, arguing that the costs of providing special education services had gone down, so it allocated less money that year.

And here’s the heart of the problem:

The ruling comes as the state is overhauling its special education system after the U.S. Department of Education determined that state officials illegally set up what amounted to a cap on the number of students receiving special education. While 13 percent of students across the nation are in special education programs, Texas officials pushed school districts to admit no more than 8.5 percent of their students into those programs. A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation prompted the federal inquiry.
While the ruling is unrelated to the cap, special education advocates say it’s yet another example of the state skirting its obligation to provide special education services to students in need.

While the Texas Education Agency said the fine — about 3 percent of the 1 billion in special education grants it gets from the feds — would have a “minimal impact,” it’s still going to hurt, because the TEA already is projecting it will need hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending to make up for the lapse in identifying and serving special education services after the controversy over the 8.5 percent cap.

(The Texas Tribune also has good coverage of the issue on the day before the ruling.)